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  • The Rev. Dr. Brian Rajcok

Easter “To-Be-Continued” In Us

Mark 16: 1-8

At the end of the movie Back to the Future the main character Marty McFly wakes up to see that a lot in his life has changed after his adventures back in time. He wakes up to see his family is happier, his parents healthier, his siblings more successful, their house nicer, and that he is the proud owner of a new truck which at the beginning of the movie he could only dream of having. Everything seems resolved and there’s a happy ending in place. But then on the street, Doc Brown suddenly emerges from the future and tells Marty that he needs to join him in going ahead 30 years to the year 2015 (2015 used to be the future). The movie ends with the time machine flying away and a new adventure awaiting Marty and Doc, as the words “To Be Continued” flash across the screen.


Throughout this Lent we’ve been through an adventure too. A spiritual adventure with Jesus. And especially this last week as we’ve remembered his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, His Last Supper with the disciples on Maundy Thursday, and His suffering and death on the cross on Good Friday. And now, we’ve made it: the story seems to be resolved and there’s a happy ending with the empty tomb and Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. But Mark’s version of the Easter story may leave us feeling less like a “happily ever after” ending and more like a cliff hanger or an ending that’s to-be-continued. The tomb is empty but the angel tells the women that Jesus isn’t there, He’s gone ahead of them to Gallilee. He tells them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is alive, but we’re told they run away in terror and amazement and said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.


Mark’s Gospel story ends on that note. Most bibles include footnotes of additional endings to Mark, but the earliest manuscripts have the Gospel end right here at verse 8. Biblical scholars think Mark was quite intentional about ending the Gospel like this.


The women not telling anyone is interesting especially because throughout the Gospel of Mark there’s a recurring theme that’s so common that scholars give it a name, it’s known as the “messianic secret.” This recurring theme is that whenever Jesus heals someone in Mark, he tells them not to tell anybody. But over and over again, people don’t listen and instead go and tell everyone about this man Jesus who changed their life. It happens like clockwork: Jesus heals someone, He tells them not to tell anyone, and then they go and tell everybody. They just can’t contain themselves and the good news spills over because they just can’t resist telling the world the good that God has for them! And now here, in this final scene of the Gospel story, the angel at the tomb tells the women to go and tell everyone that Christ is risen—and “they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”


Now obviously they eventually told people. Mark himself never would have known what happened if they didn’t, and the other Gospel authors share plenty of Resurrection appearances. But Mark’s using a literary device here to leave his readers inspired that if these witnesses didn’t tell anyone then we need to! Mark wanted to end with a twist, with an inspiring cliff-hanger, and he wanted readers to see that the story is “to be continued” in them.


The Gospel writer Mark wants us to know that this is not the end of the story. He doesn’t tie up all loose ends and tell us everyone lived happily ever after. No, Mark is very clear that this is really just the beginning. The beginning of a new thing God is doing. The beginning of a new life for these women. The beginning of a new life for the disciples. The beginning of a new life for the world.


The story continues for them. The angel tells the women that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee. It’s clear that Jesus has more to do, and it’s clear that so do they. These women and the rest of Jesus’ disciples will all have much more to do. These disciples will share the good news that Jesus Christ is risen. These disciples will continue his mission of manifesting the Kingdom of God in the world. These disciples will spread the gospel to the ends of the earth and build communities that gather in remembrance of Jesus. Over the centuries these disciples will inspire billons of new disciples to follow Jesus. These disciples will change the world.


They’ll change the world by sharing the Easter story: that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the full manifestation of God—we see who God really is. By the cross we see who God really is. Vulnerable, loving, self-sacrificing. Completely selfless, totally forgiving, unconditionally loving to the end. Not using power to defend Himself or change the course of events, but surrendering to whatever evil, sin, and human cruelty were inflicted on Him. Those earliest disciples understood that in some mysterious way beyond our comprehension, the death of God brings life to the world. And they spent their lives witnessing to this, and often were killed for proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He had risen from the dead.


And the way Mark ends his Gospel makes it clear that the story isn’t only continued in these disciples, the story is to be continued in us too. Mark wants whoever’s reading his Gospel to understand ourselves as participants in this story too. We are also those in whom the story is continued. Like the women at the empty tomb, we too are called to share the good news that Christ is risen. We too are called to manifest the Kingdom of God with our lives and in our community together. We too are called to tell others how much God has impacted our lives. We too are called to share that God’s love has conquered death. We too are called to share the message that the tomb is empty and that Christ is risen and that this changes everything.


So it’s up to us now to share the good news! We are the next participants in the story. So if it’s in our hands now to share this world-changing news, what do we do next? In what ways can we share that Christ is risen? Sharing the good news, or continuing the Easter story, may not mean traveling to the ends of the earth or baptizing thousands in a single day. For us, continuing the Easter story in our lives may simply mean sharing with a friend how God has impacted your life. Continuing the Easter story may mean teaching children about God’s love for them. Continuing the Easter story may mean serving neighbors in need or advocating for a more just system that doesn’t leave so many in need. Continuing the Easter story may mean being more intentional about studying scripture and theology, or diving more deeply into your spiritual journey. Continuing the Easter story is following the Spirit’s direction in your life and trusting wherever that leads.


We are an Easter people. And we know that the story continues in us. We know that the story continued after the women ran from the empty tomb. We know that the story continued as the early church spread the good news throughout the ancient world. And we know that the story continues every time we gather in worship, read from scripture, sing glory to God, and celebrate Holy Communion. The story continues every time we enter into spiritual practice, prayer or meditation, and encounter a deeper understanding of the divine at work among us. The story continues every time we love and serve the world in need, and every time we manifest a little bit of the Kingdom in this realm.


We know that the story of Jesus is not over, but that this Crucified One is risen from the dead and that changes everything!


Alleluia!

Christ is risen!

Pastor Brian | Easter Sunday | March 31, 2024


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